Angels catcher Bobby Wilson tags out Chicago Cubs' Marlon Byrd during… (Matt York / Associated Press )
For Bobby Wilson, the wait to become a big league catcher had gone on too long. And Manager Mike Scioscia knew why — it was the weight.
So just before Wilson went home last season Scioscia, a catcher who battled a bulge during his playing days, called Wilson into his office and delivered a simple message: Shape up or we'll ship you out.
"If you want to stay in this game, don't eat your way out of it. If you want to stay in this game you need to get your body where it needs to be," is how Wilson remembers the message.
"You take it to heart if a guy, especially someone like Sciosch, says you have the ability to play for a long time," Wilson, 27, continued. "This game is short as it is. I might as well as try to extend it for as long as I can."
So days after the 2010 season ended, Wilson signed up with a nutritionist and over the next four months ate nothing but protein, fruits and vegetables and drank little more than water, losing 33 pounds and reporting to spring training at a svelte 210.
His body fat shrank from 18% to 13% but his strength, according to some measurements, nearly doubled. It was more than a makeover, it was a transformation. And it may wind up remaking Wilson's career as well.
"I think we all would have been happy with about 20 pounds," Scioscia said. "He just took it and ran with it. He's watched his diet but he's exercised, so he's at a strong weight. And he's doing most things with a lot more ease than he did last year."
Wilson is out of minor league options, meaning the Angels can't send him down without first placing him on waivers, running the risk of losing him to another organization. But he's largely taken such a move off the table by hitting .429 this spring, striking out just once in 14 at-bats. And he's become far better defensively.
"I'm motivated," he said. "I'm going to come in with the same mindset, that you compete every day for a job."
Although Jeff Mathis figures to start the season as the Angels' regular behind the plate, Wilson will have to be ready to catch often since Mathis has never played more than 94 games in a season. And if Wilson keeps hitting and throwing as he has this spring, his playing time could increase.
"That's part of the reason for the weight loss. Last year I think I caught once a week or once every two weeks," said Wilson, who hit .229 in 40 games in a season interrupted by a concussion "I'd get up in the morning and just be sore. Right now I can get up in the morning, I don't have to ease my way out of bed."
Added Scioscia: "I think he's figuring some things out. He's blossoming into a guy that wants to make a statement."